JUNE 17, 2015
WOODS HOLE, MASSACHUSETTS
The same nervous watchfulness that Scully left behind on the mainland comes back to her as their boat approaches the dock in Woods Hole. She can tell Mulder and Isaac feel it, too; though they don’t speak, the looks on their faces are drawn.
Like we’re ready for a fight, she thinks grimly.
Mulder docks the boat while she takes inventory of her supplies. They’ll go back to the house to collect more samples, then to the lab so she can run another PCR.
If we hurry, we can make it back to the island before dusk.
Something tells her they don’t want to risk overnighting at the lab again; that whatever is keeping tabs on them—because she’s certain something is, there’s no denying it now—will soon make its presence known.
“We’ll get in, I’ll grab the samples, then we’ll go,” she says, speaking over her shoulder. The house looms ahead, as if beckoning them.
Just a few minutes, she thinks, chewing lightly on her bottom lip. In and out. Then we’ll get to the bottom of this.
The stairs creak under their combined weight, and she forces herself to take low, deep breaths through her mouth to curb the smell. It’s weaker now; the house has been open for a while.
The bedroom is as she left it, but something is off.
Oh, oh no…
The body is gone. The bed is empty, save for a crusted bloody stain on the sheets.
Scully turns back to find Isaac, his expression drawn and pale. “They came back for it.”
“Let’s go,” she whispers roughly, unable to keep her voice from shaking.
They make a hasty retreat, Scully looking over her shoulder with every footstep until the house is behind them. If she was nervous before, now every nerve in her body is on high alert.
They know. They know.
“Why would they take it?” Mulder murmurs, struggling to keep up with her.
“It’s a message,” she says tightly, forcing herself to slow her pace, taking a deep breath. “They’ve been watching us. They’re waiting for us to make a mistake, and now they’re…they’re interfering because we’re close.”
Isaac’s voice is ragged. “They’re flushing us out.”
“It’ll be alright,” Mulder says, but his expression is tight as they walk back to the boat landing.
The trees sway lightly, their shushing branches whispering a warning as the wind picks up. It blows the damp hair off the back of Scully’s neck, and she shivers. Distracted, she doesn’t notice the boat landing until Mulder stops short in front of her.
“Shit,” he hisses, swallowing hard, running long fingers through his shaggy brown hair. “They got to the boat.”
“They what?” she says, jaw tightening in fear. Sure enough, the boat has been dragged ashore, and they get closer she can see the bottom has been ripped out. There’s a jagged hole in the underside where something has burst through, leaving long, angry claw marks along the sides.
“That’s fiberglass,” Mulder says weakly. “Fiberglass, and they tore it apart like paper.”
“The car,” Scully says, backing away from the dock in the direction of the road. “We have to get to the car.”
“The laptop,” Mulder says suddenly, “I left the laptop with the rest of the gear in the goddamned boat!”
He’s walking to the shore, intent on finding the black leather bag, and Scully wheels on him in disbelief. “Mulder, we can’t stay here!”
“Go! I’ll be right behind you.”
Isaac looks toward the car, toward Scully, retreating down the road toward the vehicle’s hiding spot, but he’s torn. “I need to stay with him! You have the gun!”
For all the good that will do, she thinks, the shattered boat heavy on her mind.
She groans in frustration, but begins running up the road, toward the edge of the woods where they’d hid the Prius, relieved when she sees the glint of blue emerge from within the forest.
It’s still here! Oh thank God.
She begins pulling at branches covering the vehicle, scrambling to get into the car, until she remembers Mulder has the keys.
The back of her neck tingles violently and she turns around to call for her partner and Isaac, but the words die on her lips.
Standing between her and the road is one of Them.
“Ohhhhh,” the surprised moan escapes her lips. Unlike the shadows, with their ethereal, wavering forms, this creature is solid, sharp angles and harsh lines a painful silhouette against the daylight.
Just a baby, she thinks wildly, just a baby but oh god the claws and it’s huge
She thinks again of the boat, splintered like a toy, of the body in the bed with his guts ripped from his body, leeched of everything that had once been human. She swallows and tastes bile.
They separated us. They knew, they knew Isaac was the only thing keeping us from Them.
The gun is in her hands now, raised and ready, the instincts she’d buried for years rushing to the surface. She doesn’t hear the gunshot, but there must be one, because she smells gunpowder, her arm kicks back once, twice, three times.
Dead center, but it’s not dead. I’m dead.
The thing leans down, considering her. She can feel it breathing, feels its expelled air moving across her face, ripe sewage and soured milk. Its claws extend like a cat’s, beckoning, and she is the prey, helpless as a mouse. Toying with her.
She fires again, an involuntary reaction, knowing it’s no use.
No no no no GODAMNIT NO
The thing screams, a blinding, terrifying caw that drives her to the ground with a groan, curling in on herself and wrapping her hands over her ears to still the ringing. She feels the weight of it on her, pulling at her, and there’s more screaming, a searing pain in her shoulder, her ribs.
The light floods her vision with white heat, more screams, then silence so abrupt she fears it must be over.
I’m breathing, she thinks, coming to.
And she is, the jagged motion of her chest rising and falling, her spine pressed to the cold, damp earth. She sits up, finds Isaac standing in the distance with his hand outstretched, face white and hard as a stone.
The seconds stretch out, time bending and twisting like taffy, until they become minutes. Mulder reaches over and very slowly, very carefully, helps Isaac lower his hand from where it remains frozen in front of him.
“I’m…I’m OK,” she says, intending to sound strong, but her words are a whisper.
“Think we just met the new locals,” Mulder says shakily, laying a tentative hand on Isaac’s shoulder. “You OK, kid?”
“Yeah. I think so,” he says, but his voice is rough.
“You did good,” Mulder says in passing, already moving to where Scully is struggling to get to her feet.
“I’m OK,” she repeats, but finds her legs won’t hold her. Her balance feels off, her body sways until she feels Mulder’s arm around her waist, pulling her up.
“Did it…are you hurt?” he asks, and she can feel the tremor of nervous energy along his forearms. “Christ, you’re bleeding.”
“It’s just a flesh wound,” she says, blinking in an attempt to bring the world back into focus.
“Was that a Monty Python joke I just heard?” Mulder mutters drily, wincing as he examines the gash on her right shoulder. “Twenty years and my terrible taste is finally rubbing off on you, Scully. Stay with me.”
“Not going anywhere, it’s not deep,” she continues. “Isaac…he—“
“That thing got between you. I saw it from back there, I thought…”
Mulder doesn’t continue, but he doesn’t have to.
“I fired at it…point blank,” she says, words that feel like they’re coming from another person.
“C’mon, Scully, let’s go,” Mulder says. They’re at the car now, he’s opening the door, helping her into the back seat.
“Mulder, what are you—“
“We gotta get out of here.”
Isaac slides into the seat next to hers.
“Where are we going?” Scully asks, hands gripping the seat beneath her, as if the car were already moving, as if one wrong move could send her flying off the earth.
“Anywhere but here,” Mulder mutters through his teeth.
“They know…They know what we’re trying to do,” Isaac says hollowly. “But They don’t know everything. Yet.”
“What does that mean?” Mulder asks, starting the engine, not bothering to clear the last of the branches from the back of the car before he pulls out of the makeshift parking spot, tires squealing in protest as he pulls onto the main road. The boughs scrape like claws against the bumper as the last of them fall to the pavement behind them.
“They didn’t know I could do that,” Isaac says, a trace of pride masked by hollow shock. “They’re angry, but…but now They’re afraid, too.”
Mulder’s eyes meet Scully’s in the mirror, wide and intense. “We may have some time, then.”
“Time…to do what?” she asks, woozy from shock, the pain searing across her shoulder.
“To figure out how we get rid of Them.”
Scully sleeps in the back while they drive, an old t-shirt pressed to her wounded shoulder. It stopped oozing shortly after they crossed the border into Connecticut, and Mulder is worried she’s lost too much blood. He checks on her in the mirror every few minutes, each time his pulse jumps at the reminder of what he’d seen, watching as the creature had descended on his partner.
And where were you? Chasing a useless piece of waterlogged computer equipment. Thank God Isaac was there, he thinks, over and over, until the boy speaks up from the back seat, “If there is a god, I don’t think he’s listening.”
“Touché,” Mulder says, clearing his throat.
Isaac crawls to the front, curling up with his forehead pressed to the window. The car’s wheels are a comforting hum on the pavement, although their destination remains unknown.
“They’re not like the other ones,” he says quietly, startling Mulder out of the haze of yellow lines and passing trees.
“The other ones are…evolved. They’re smarter. The ones they’ve left here are just…here to do the dirty work. Slaves.”
Isaac leans forward, wincing, and presses a finger to his temple.
“Hey…you OK?” The car swerves a little as Mulder tries to divide his attention.
“Yeah,” the boy says, drawing out the word. “Yeah, it’s just…a lot.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Not really. But sometimes…it’s like there’s no room for my own thoughts,” he sighs, closing his eyes.
Mulder watches him out of the corner of his eye, but it appears Isaac has nothing else to say. Soon he’s snoring lightly, leaving Mulder alone with his own too-loud thoughts.
You’re in deep shit, Fox, his father’s voice chimes in helpfully.
He thinks again about the brief network connection at the college, messages sent from around the globe, pitifully few survivors, and what Scully had said about the Gunmen.
No time for that. Figure out where you’re going to hide, now that the things know where you are.
But is it possible to hide?
By the time it’s dark, they’ve pulled into a park on the outskirts of a rural township somewhere in northwestern Pennsylvania. Isaac rouses, squinting into the darkness. “Mulder?”
“Sleep,” Mulder whispers, watching as the boy tries to fold his long legs into the seat, struggling to get comfortable. Scully is stretched across the narrow back seat as much as her petite body will allow, but even she looks cramped.
We’re going to need a bigger car for this kind of family road trip.
It’s difficult to see in the dark, but the brown wood sign to their left reads “Penn Point Lookout.” The landmark doesn’t appear anywhere in the tattered atlas Scully keeps in the back seat pocket, which Mulder consults, then tosses to the floor in disgust.
A tour of every Nowheresville in the continental U.S., Mulder thinks, groaning softly as he exits the car, trying to reshape his tired muscles into some semblance of a working human body. What I wouldn’t give for a working GPS.
The park turns out to be a campground, abandoned as far as he can tell.
Mulder is sitting on the ground, propped up against the car with the pistol balanced on one knee, when Scully wakes. He brushes a lazy mosquito from his face, grimacing.
“Where are we?”
“Pennsylvania,” he says, voice rusty from lack of sleep. “Scoot over.”
She does, and he does his best to fold his long, lean body into the back of the car, tucking his head against her side.
“How long have I been out?” she murmurs, and her breath stirs the hair across his forehead.
“Mmm…few hours,” he rumbles, voice muffled. “How’s your shoulder?”
She winces and pulls away the t-shirt to reveal the cut, blood matted along the edges. “Needs cleaning,” she says. “I don’t have a fever. No infection yet. Our antibiotics are still at the house.”
“Laptop’s gone, too,” he yawns. “Swam with the fishes.”
“No more Minesweeper for you,” she whispers.
Mulder nuzzles his nose against her cheek. “Y’know, Scully, as much as I like a good cuddle…this car is too damned small.”
The town itself is as minuscule as the Prius—the “Welcome to Penn Point” sign proudly proclaims a population of just over 300.
“They’re off by a few hundred,” Scully mutters darkly as they cross the town line, greeted by a single road, one stoplight, and no one to be seen for miles.
“Creepy,” Isaac says under his breath.
“Hey, Scully, didn’t we stay there once?” Mulder is gesturing out the window to an abandoned motel; the sign, missing several letters, reads L zy Star M TEL. “We had a case out here in the mountains somewhere.”
Scully squints, “You’d know better than me.”
“I think we did. I think it had bedbugs,” he says.
“The ones that didn’t have bedbugs were a rarity,” she sighs.
There’s a grocer, and a Wal-Mart that’s seen better days, but it has a pharmacy. Scully ducks into the back, in search of erythromycin and Bacitracin, while Isaac and Mulder go searching for their next meal. The shelves have been picked over, and anything fresh has long since expired.
“Nice thing about these,” Mulder says, picking up a pack of sunflower seeds from the checkout aisle, shaking them with fondness, “They last.”
“Can’t say that for much,” Isaac agrees, but he’s too tired to do much more, still numbed from yesterday’s brutal encounter. The dark shape had materialized out of nowhere, blocking his view of Scully, giving him no time to think or act.
She was dead, he thinks. As good as dead, and…
And he doesn’t know what he did to stop it, save for existing. Doesn’t know how his hands came to be in front of him, how he’d directed it, how Scully had survived the blast. Power without understanding is a terrible, dangerous thing.
He wonders how long it will take before the bomb he carries within will blow up.
He thinks of Alice, of their first and last kiss, and the terrifying way she’d died.
Has her monster gestated yet?
He shudders, stumbling over a shattered lamp; Mulder catches him by the shoulder, guiding him around the wreckage with a concerned look. Isaac’s head aches, he’s overtired, careless, getting clumsy.
Maybe her monster is out there, looking for him. Alice’s child.
His child, too, in a way.
“How’re you holding up?” Mulder asks, interrupting his thoughts.
Isaac shrugs. “I dunno,” he whispers, turning away. “Can’t sleep.” This is the truth, although it’s not unusual, not anymore. If he sleeps, he might dream, and his dreams are a labyrinth of losses and horrors.
“No. I don’t have to close my eyes for those,” he says with a wry grimace. “It’s the ‘closing my eyes’ part I’m having trouble with, I guess.”
“Yeah…me, too,” Mulder admits. “I think sleep deprivation comes with the territory now.”
“It always has.”
“You get that from me,” Mulder snorts softly. “Let’s go check on the doc.”
Scully is redressing the wound on her shoulder when they find her amidst half-open boxes of gauze and a tube of Neosporin in the pharmaceuticals aisle.
“I got extras, just in case,” she says, wincing as she pulls the sleeve of her shirt down over the freshly bandaged gouge. “It wasn’t bad this time. I also found a map,” she says, pulling out a large book. “I think we can trace a route around most of the major cities.”
“Where are we going?” asks Isaac.
“Well, that’s the big question, isn’t it?” Scully sighs. “But if we want to study this thing, we should head for the closest major CDC research facility. That’s northeast of Atlanta. But there’s no way we’re getting through the city without backup.”
“No, too risky,” Mulder says quietly. “Isn’t there a satellite campus somewhere? The research would be accessible to all connected centers across the country; we just have to find a waypoint.”
Scully looks at him carefully. “That’s possible. I think there’s a smaller lab in Kentucky…yeah…here,” she says, flipping pages. “South of Frankfort. We can probably drive it in a day if we don’t run into any roadblocks, and camp out on the back roads. We’ll stay here tonight and leave in the morning.”
“I thought we agreed—no more camping,” Mulder says drily. The thought of sleeping on a tent floor, with nothing but a layer of Polytex between them and the monsters holds little appeal.
Not like the car’s any better. One of those things could open a Hummer like soup can.
“Unless you want to stay at the ‘Ell-zee Star Em-tel,’” she sighs, sounding out the motel with the busted sign. “I think it’s best if we stay mobile, sleep in the car. If we drive it in shifts, we’ll make better time.”
“I’m going to look in the back,” Isaac says. “We need sleeping bags.”
“Here, take the flashlight—no windows back there.”
Mulder is right; away from the light of the front entrance, it’s pitch black. Isaac wanders toward the camping section, flashlight beam bouncing along the aisles. His head aches, has grown from a dull roar to a steady throb as they came into town, and now he has to stop in the middle of the home goods section to grit his teeth at an unexpected wave of pain.
Fuck ow ow ow.
He crouches, eyes watering, as the throb grows more insistent, demanding his attention, a calling he can’t understand. It’s almost like…
Something moves at the back of the store, a flicker of shadow on the concrete wall. He points the flashlight, but whatever it is has scooted out of sight.
The beam trembles as he considers whether to go back and warn Mulder and the Doc, then decides against it.
Probably just a stray.
He reaches the end of the aisle, swinging the flashlight left and right, his breathing faster, his heart ticking like a bomb. There’s a sound to his left, a soft scratching, and he stifles a gasp in his sleeve.
He puts one hand to his temple, absently massaging the ache, heading toward the sound, but it stops at his approach. The light wobbles left to right and back again, but there’s nothing to see; only half-empty shelves, a display of throw pillows, a box of cereal dumped on the floor and crushed into powder.
The seconds tick by and the pounding in his head increases, nearly pinning him to the floor.
He’s about to turn around when the creature lets out a strangled cry, and a black mass launches at him from the darkness.
He thinks of Alice, her monster come to collect her due.
Isaac ducks, feels something sharp, then fleshy, graze his temple, and he loses the flashlight, a hard clack as it skitters underneath one of the shelves and goes out. His hands are already hot, and he puts them out, letting off a surge of light that drowns the dark in white. Someone—something—screams. A dull clanging noise echoes off the rafters of the department store, metal beams carrying the sound across the gray-black ceiling.
A panicked cry from somewhere to his right. “Isaac? Isaac!”
He scrabbles backward on the tile, breathing hard, waiting for another hit. He can’t see, everything is gray-blue shapes with fuzzy edges, his vision whited out by his own hands.
Nothing comes. Just the tick of the thing’s angry thoughts retreating and outward silence, footsteps as his parents rush to the scene. Sweat drips off his brow, the stale air has grown hot and rank with fear.
Scully is the first to find him. “Isaac? Isaac, what happened?” She’s kneeling before him, her porcelain face looms in front of him, her hands cupping his cheeks.
“No…I think I hurt it,” he whispers.
Mulder comes up behind them. “Did you—“
“There was something back here,” he says, taking great gulps of air. “Think I surprised it.”
“You’re bleeding,” Scully whispers, the flashlight temporarily blinding him as it scans his face.
“What did you see, Isaac?” Mulder murmurs, kneeling, hand warm on his shoulder.
“One of them,” he says quietly. “It was here…scavenging, I think. It…my head hurt, it was so…so…” he says, struggling to describe the feeling. “It must have been here before, I just…I couldn’t tell, there were too many…”
“Is it still here?” Mulder asks, squinting into the dark.
Isaac swallows, noting the pain is his head is almost gone. He stands, leaning against Scully, grateful for something solid to hold onto. “No, I don’t think so.”
“OK,” Mulder breathes. “Let’s get what we need, then get the hell out of here.”
They find a truck in the parking lot; old, but big enough to carry their supplies and act as a mobile home. An actual camper might have worked better, but there is only one to be found, and Isaac looked at it with wide, vacant eyes and terse shake of his head; a silent but emphatic no.
That’s probably where the thing in the store came from, Scully thinks, wondering if the creatures are drawn to their birthplaces.
They end up at the Lazy Star Motel after all, parking the truck behind the worn building for better cover, staying with it rather than venturing inside.
“It’s warm enough to sleep out here,” Scully says as she rolls out a cheap foam pad in the covered truck and spreads sleeping bags on top, a makeshift bed, nesting with what little they have while Mulder attempts to start a fire. “We can move quick if anything happens. It’ll be OK,” she says, trying to reassure Isaac, who’s hanging back at the tailgate, watching the trees. His shoulders twitch at every movement, every sound, and he jumps when she lays a hand on his shoulder.
“You can sleep in the cab.”
“Yeah.” His voice shakes, and she wants to hug him, but knows he wouldn’t let her, one of the many ways they are alike. Neither is easily soothed with touch.
“Do you want something to eat?”
“No…no, I think I’m gonna go to bed,” he says, looking at his shoes.
“Yes!” Mulder shouts from a few feet away, as the fire starts to grow in the pit. The smell of smoke and burning wood is comforting, familiar.
“Stay,” she says at the last minute, as Isaac is turning to climb into the truck. “I…we still need to clean that cut,” she gestures to the gash on his forehead, now dried and sticky.
He shrugs, eyes dark, but he ambles back to her.
“Sit,” she says, patting the tailgate, taking a seat next to him. She rummages in her pack for the Bacitracin, Neosporin, and a gauze pad. “Let me take a look.”
He winces when she dabs at the wound. There are tears in his eyes, but he’s stoic.
“It’s not deep,” she murmurs, wiping away dirt and blood from the surface, taking care around the edges, remembering a time when she’d done the same for Mulder. “Just a scratch. Head wounds bleed more, though. Let’s get a Band-Aid on it.”
“Anyone up for s’mores?” Mulder calls just as she’s finished affixing the bandage to Isaac’s forehead. Her partner is cheekily smiling over the now-roaring campfire, holding up a bag of fluffy white marshmallows from the Wal-Mart. This gets a small smile, even from Isaac, and he shrugs in agreement.
They eat dessert first, graham crackers covered in melted candy, and none of them talk about what happened at the store.
“Scully, wake up. Wake up!”
Someone is shaking her shoulder; Mulder’s hand is warm on her chilled skin.
“Mulder?” she mutters, squinting up at the truck’s cap. “Is it my turn?”
“No, it’s Isaac.”
There’s a surge of adrenaline at the panic in his voice. “What? What happened?”
She’s crawling out of the bed of the truck and following Mulder to the passenger’s side door.
“I think he’s having a seizure.”
She steps in front of Mulder to get to their son, whose body has gone rigid, his eyes open but unfocused, rolling in their sockets, and—
Black, she thinks, throat tightening with fear, thinking of the other night in the lab.
“Hold him,” she says, medical training kicking in. “Not too tight, make sure he can’t hurt himself.”
But before Mulder can grasp the boy’s shoulder, he stills, blinks, turns his head toward his parents.
“Isaac…Isaac, can you hear us?” Scully says, reaching for him, cupping his cheek in her hand, feeling the cold sting of sweat against her palm.
The boy blinks again, confused, but whispers, “Yeah. M’fine.”
“Don’t move, Isaac, you need to—“
But he’s already sitting up, turning around, and his face pales at the sight of them standing over him with fear in their eyes. “What is it? Are They here?”
“No, no, sweetie,” she whispers, exhaling in a rush. “But you were…we thought you were sick. Are you hurt?”
Isaac frowns. “I’m fine. It was just a bad dream.”
“You having those a lot?” Mulder asks.
Isaac breaks Scully’s gaze to look at his lap, suddenly contrite. “Umm…sometimes,” he says.
“How often?” Scully demands.
“I dunno…most nights, I guess.”
“Since when?” she says.
His brow furrows. “I don’t remember. It’s just the same stupid dream.”
Scully presses her lips together hard, drawing back, every muscle in her neck straining as her stomach turns at this revelation. Mulder’s hand finds its way to her lower back.
“S’OK, Scully. He’s OK,” he whispers, and she measures her breaths in seconds until the shaking in her hands subsides.
“You have to tell us these things,” she says, barely controlling her words. “You can’t—“
The boy sits up suddenly, a flurry of movement. Mulder and Scully watch as he fishes around under his blanket, then pulls his hand back, startled.
“Isaac? What is it?”
“I…I…” he begins, but can’t finish the thought.
She looks over his shoulder to where he’s pulled back the blanket, staring at a black mark on the truck’s seat. There’s the faint, acrid smell of burning plastic.
No…not a mark, she realizes as her eyes adjust to the gray dawn light. A hole.
Leaning forward, her hands brush Isaac’s fingers as she reaches out to touch the scar left in the truck’s upholstery, like a cigarette burn in the shape of a hand, where he’d clutched at the seat during his nightmare.